The hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) is aptly named, as it has a distinct hawk-like beak. Of the family Cheloniidae ,the hawksbill is considered a relatively small sea turtle that commonly grows to 2.5 feet in length and weighs between 100- 165 lbs when fully mature. Coloration is typically brown with varied shades of orange, yellow or red on the overlapping scutes on their carapaces. These overlapping scutes are unique to the hawksbill. Their carapaces in addition have four pairs of costal scutes. Another feature of the hawksbill sea turtle is the set of two claws on each forelimb.
The Atlantic hawkbill sea turtle is found primarily in the warmer waters of the Atlantic , although they can be found along Massachusetts and even rarely in New York. The hawkbill generally prefers warm, coastal shoal water and are not usually found north of Florida. Atlantic hawkbill sea turtles usually live within the 30 degree North to 30 degree South latitude in the Atlantic Ocean. U.S. Sightings also occur in Texas and usually involve young sea turtles most likely originating from Mexico where they were hatched.
More interesting facts about hawksbill sea turtle include they avoid deep waters and prefer living in water under 50 feet deep with abundant submerged vegetations. Their preference for the more shallow waters is in part due to the fact that young hawkbill turtles are unable to dive deep and must float among the sea plants at the surface. Hawkbills normally are found in coral reefs where they feed on the sponges that are plentiful within that environment. Compared to other sea turtles- the hawkbill is the most tropical. It is believed by scientists that sea turtles use a biological global positioning device to navigate using the earth,s magnetic field which they are born with; just a few more fascinating facts about hawksbill sea turtle.
A baby hawksbill sea turtle hatches after an incubation period of 60 days. Nesting season usually occurs sometime between April and November with females nesting 4-5 times per season. The female hawksbill lays around 70-150 eggs each nesting period. The age at which sexual maturity occurs for the female is unknown, but it occurs when the female reaches around 80 lbs or 35cm in length. The baby hawksbill sea turtle is hatched at night then immediately crawls to the sea. Over their first year these youngsters are rarely seen by humans.
A hawksbill sea turtle diet is varied as they are considered omnivorous; meaning they eat both plants and animal foods. Hawksbills like to feed on sponges which are found within the coral reefs they tend to inhabit. They also consume various sea grasses and plants found within the ocean., as well as various invertebrates, such as urchins, mollusks and even jellyfish. One can see that a hawksbill sea turtle diet is varied, but they will also consume other items such as plastic debris humans throw into the ocean which they mistake for food . This can in turn make the hawksbill very ill or even cause death.
Hawksbill sea turtle conservation is necessary as the population has declined significantly. Hawksills have been hunted and killed for their tortoiseshell and now are endangered. The hunting of these creatures for their shells has been made illegal-however illegal hunting continues. Another contributing factor to the population decline is environmental- with coastal development destroying nesting areas. Other threats include the destruction of natural habitat due to oceanic pollution and the accidental deaths caused by commercial fishing. The Fish and Wildlife Service has provided funding since 1985 for the conservation efforts along the Yucatan Peninsula- which account for almost 30% of all hawksbill nesting in the Caribbean. Although various efforts are being made to protect their habitat there is still much more that must be done to ensure hawksbill sea turtle conservation.